CogniFit's Science blog: Is Social Media Affecting Our Brains?

Is Social Media Affecting Our Brains?

By now you have probably heard all about Twitter, the popular micro-blogging service. The service allows people to quickly update their audience of “followers” using no more than 140 characters. It has proven to be a powerful way to rapidly communicate about all kinds of things, ranging from superficial to significant.

But users of Twitter and other social networking sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace, may be engaging in behavior that has a more lasting effect than the time it takes to read a 140-character message.

Previous entries of this blog have already described the phenomenon of brain plasticity, or how the brain reorganizes itself in response to our engagement with the world around us. Brain plasticity is the reason scientifically validated brain fitness training is effective. Brain plasticity may also mean that using obsessively social media networks could have unintended consequences for our brains and cognitive skills.

Authors and scientists have recently observed the effect of the Internet and social networking on our brains. They have raised questions about whether the fast pace and indirect social contact of online life may change our real-life, real time social skills, ability to focus, and our multitasking skills.

The most likely cognitive effects of social media are for our attentional skills – our ability to concentrate and focus on a task. Some scientists have observed that our bodies are wired to respond to interruptions. We get a shot of adrenaline when we must respond to a change in our situation.

Interruptions become like tasty bird seed for our increasingly birdy brains, to the point where we can become distracted even thinking about the possibility of an interruption. This constant distraction could also affect our ability to perform more demanding intellectual tasks like inferential and deductive reasoning or critical analysis.

While there have been studies that show how the environment rewires brain development, it’s still uncertain if social media is actually making us into bird brains. Just make sure to declare some periods of your day to be free of social media. Just a couple of hours a day to let your mind think about things.

Use these periods to focus on work that requires concentration and seek out direct and personal social interaction.  You can then pursue hobbies or activities that require deep concentration to reinforce your ability to focus such as mental training!